FALSETTOS

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Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells in FALSETTOS. Photo by Joan Marcus.

**** 1/2

“Well, the situation’s this, it’s not tough to comprehend. I divorced my wife, I left my child and I ran off with a ‘friend.’ But I want a tight-knit family,” sings Marvin, the demanding lead character of FALSETTOS. By the final chords of the show, Marvin has his tight-knit, extended family, but it took a plague to get there.

I won’t bore you with my lengthy history with the show, let’s just say that I can recite every lyric, musical note and stage action that was changed over the years in various incarnations. So how does this version hold up? Exceedingly well.

Stephanie J. Block is funny, poignant and dazzling as Trina, her rendition of “I’m Breaking Down” is a high point. Brandon Uranowitz, Tracie Thoms, and Betsy Wolfe are all equally wonderful in their roles. I found the casting of Andrew Rannells as pretty boy-toy Whizzer a little too spot on for my taste, but his performance is excellent.  Child Actor Anthony Rosenthal only earns one of those two descriptors; he is a child, and then there is Christian Borle‘s Marvin.

I expected so much more from this two-time Tony award-winning actor. Mr. Borle is known for his broad and funny characterizations so in toning down the comedy, he seems to have abandoned Marvin’s edge.  It’s a shame because James Lapine‘s updated direction is thrilling. William Finn‘s songs are as witty and heart-breaking as ever. The revised lyrics fit seamlessly. How wonderful to see this beloved musical wearing new clothes and feeling fresh. It is an almost perfect revival, but you will need to bring tissues.

Here is a clip from the current production.

Here is a clip of the original 1992 Broadway cast on the Tonys.

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NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812

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Josh Groban as Pierre with the cast of NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, photo by Chad Batka.

*****

NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 has a lot in common with HAMILTON.  Based on large books, both are sung-through (meaning there is no spoken dialogue), both use a mixture of musical styles including anachronistic modern genres, both have duels, both are created by a single person writing book, music & lyrics and both represent a new wave in American Musical Theater.  Having rich base material to draw on helps both shows create intricately detailed plots, deeply drawn characters and insightful storytelling.

For those of you who didn’t make it through Leo Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE in school, have no fear. This is a raucous, fascinating musical based on a few chapters of WAR AND PEACE and there is no chance of you falling asleep. Composer/Lyricist/Bookwriter Dave Malloy has gone out of his way to make everything clear with an Opening Number that introduces the characters. I was not a Josh Groban fan going in, but he is perfectly cast as the introspective, corpulent Pierre and his singing and acting shine through on his journey of awakening.

The Set looks like a multi-layered wedding cake in the style of The Russian Tea Room, with audience on all tiers.  There is a runway stretching through the theater, where the chorus comes out to feebly draw us into the performance. The lighting is innovative, if sometimes blinding.  The tuneful music has moments of divinity and there is some of the best choral work this side of THE COLOR PURPLE. However, I would not recommend this show to anyone who only favors old-fashioned Musicals. This is Art. Sublime, delicious Art.

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Josh Groban sings “Dust and Ashes” from NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812.

THE FRONT PAGE

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 20: John Magaro, Holland Taylor, Sherie Rene Scott, John Slattery, Nathan Lane, John Goodman, David Pittu and Patricia Conolly with cast during the Broadway Opening Night performance curtain call bows for "The Front Page" at the Broadhurst Theatre on October 20, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
John Magaro, Holland Taylor, Sherie Rene Scott, John Slattery, Nathan Lane, John Goodman, Lewis J. Stadlen, David Pittu and Patricia Conolly with cast of “The Front Page” at the Broadhurst Theatre. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)

**** 1/2

Oh the pleasures of a well written play performed by a talented cast under the direction of a Pro! THE FRONT PAGE has a delightfully zany revival on Broadway with an all-star cast that is an enchantment from start to finish. How do you convince stars like John Slattery, Nathan Lane, John Goodman, Holland Taylor, Jefferson Mays, Dylan Baker, Sherie Rene Scott and Robert Morse to share the stage? Start with a gem of a script by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. The personalities are so beautifully drawn that one character, who never even appears on stage, gets a laugh when it is mentioned that he was shot. Each performer gets their moment to shine and it’s a large 26 person cast! The plot is so carefully laid out that when the trigger is finally released, a Rube Goldberg set of incidents ensue and the laughs barely let up until curtain.

John Slattery, of MAD MEN, at first glance is a little “grey” to be the newly engaged Hildy Johnson, but his age actually adds to his desperate need to escape the Newspaper Business before it’s too late. Nathan Lane is giving a quintessentially “Lanian” performance; we feel his blowhard persona even before he is physically present. And my gosh, to get to see Robert Morse on stage is entrancing, even in a minor but pivotal role. Jack O’Brien has given us a captivating look back at a time when people cared about the written word, in the news and on stage.

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